It sounds very dangerous. Shadow IT. We all know monsters live in the shadows. And we probably should steer clear of any monsters tampering with our precious IT. That can’t be good can it?
What is happening on the fringes?
When stepping out of the light, into the dark, it takes your eyes a little while to adjust to the lower amount of light. Stay in the dark for a couple of minutes though and you will start to see more clearly. It is here, on the fringe of the light, that new things are happening that will eventually step out into the light.
Shadow IT is a term used to describe applications built and used inside organizations without explicit organizational approval. It is also used to describe applications specified and deployed by departments other than the IT department. So why is what is happening outside of the IT department so scary? Why is the IT department so afraid of this development?
A tight grip
In the old days, no hardware or software would be acquired without the express consent of the IT department. They were in charge when it came to new software solutions, new computers and even telephones. Consumerization didn’t exist yet, and people were fine with IT having a tight grip on the whole ecosystem.
Today, many companies are taking a much more liberal approach to IT. Employees are allowed to use their own phone, laptop and other devices. And though you could argue that management tools for the IT department have improved, these tools have only been developed because of employees using their consumer devices for work.
In the end this means the IT department has to loosen its grip on the hardware that people are allowed to bring into the office. This is only for the better, people are usually more attached to their own devices and take better care of them. They have to provide services instead of a complete ecosystem. Think email, file system, chat, audio and video conferencing, etc. All of the major players are now offering their products in such a way that users can easily use the service from a multitude of devices.
The picture below shows the old situation on the left, where everything inside the circle is under strict control of the IT department. The right side shows the new situation, in which only the core and services are under control of IT:
While IT departments are slowly coming to terms with this part of the new world, called Bring Your Own Device, they still want to maintain a very tight grip on the other part of this world: software.
Bring Your Own Software
Business users have come to embrace the idea of bringing their own device. And why not? They still get the same access to the services, but with a lot more control over how they access the services. Whether they want to use an iPhone, Windows Phone or Android phone, prefer Ubuntu over Windows or MacOSX, it doesn’t matter. Is it so strange to extrapolate this movement to software then?
With the advent of new technologies, more and more business users will start to see the same new possibilities for software, as for devices. A strong core of services (e.g. an ERP system) that can easily be used from peripheral applications. Applications that can then be created in a simpler way, allowing the business to innovate more. While the IT department still makes sure that the core works the way it should.
While still relatively new, this is the direction that business software is headed in. The technology is mostly here, allowing the IT department to setup APIs that can easily be used to create peripheral software that only handles small areas of the business. For example, a client portal specific for large accounts, containing very specific processes for these customers, sometimes even unique processes for a single customer.
The power shift
When we look at the situation from the IT department, they are losing power. And history shows that a redistribution of power never sits well with the ones who yield that power. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Innovative IT departments actually embrace this new world, because it gives the company a lot of new possibilities. It also allows the IT department to focus more on core tasks, keeping the most important and stable part of the business what it should be: stable and high-performance.
In this new world, the IT department will let go of some of its currently held power, to the betterment of the company. Shadow IT is nothing to fear. Neither for business users or IT departments.